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Organic apples

09/10/07 5:55PM By Ron Krupp

(HOST) Apples are a challenge to grow organically, but commentator Ron Krupp says that researchers are working hard to find ways to improve upon the process.           


(KRUPP) After I received my discharge papers from the U.S. Army in the Spring of 1969, I returned to Vermont and started working at Hill and Dale Farm in Putney.  Hill and Dale was unique in those days, as it was an organic/biodynamic farm, where we raised beef, apples and vegetables.  The real challenge was in growing organic apples.  At the time, Hill and Dale was the only commercial organic orchard in southern Vermont.  Most of the apples we grew went for real apple cider, not the kind you pick up at the supermarket today that's been flash pasteurized.  Some of the apple varieties were Northern Spy, Baldwin, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, and Gravenstein.  The biggest problems we faced in growing eating apples were diseases like scab and plum curculio, where a beetle attacks the fruit.  
 
Since then, the interest in organic apple production has become stronger, but there are still very few certified organic orchards.  Nick Coles has an organic and an ecological section at Shelburne Orchards, where chemical sprays are limited and only used when necessary to save the crop.  Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards has a similar situation.  Reed Miller in Dummerston grows organic apples as well.
 
Changes in consumer preference for organic fruits have also led to a new level of research in organic apple production.  On a recent afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend an open house for the Organic Apple Project at the UVM Horticulture Research Center in South Burlington.  I counted close to 65 people in attendance, including home and commercial orchardists, extension personnel and other interested folks.  
 
The topics discussed were site preparation for a new orchard and top-grafting of an established orchard, as well as nutrient, weed and insect management.   Terrance Bradshaw of Calais, who works at the University of Vermont, is conducting the apple research at the Horticulture Farm.    
 
Bradshaw is experimenting with five different apple cultivars - Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp, Liberty, Macoun and Zestar.  They were chosen because they are less susceptible to disease, and they taste good.  The purpose of the research is to find out what the challenges and opportunities are with those 5 cultivars and to determine whether organic apple production is profitable and sustainable.    
 
An older stand of apple trees that had been managed with chemical pesticides was removed in 2003, and the soil was prepared for planting the new dwarf trees in 2006.  The use of cover crops was introduced, including buckwheat, and compost from the Intervale in Burlington was added.  Hopefully, this new  initiative holds promise for orchardists and consumers alike, but only time will tell what the future will be for organic apple production in Vermont.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.
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